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Five years after the nuclear apocalypse, bones still littered the street, reminding survivors that life was fragile. Who could know whether other survivors could gain access to any remaining nukes and begin yet another likely final round of dehumanization?
With a shotgun in hand and ever at the ready, Sven moved stealthily down 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Most of what was salvageable from bombed out stores and shops had already been picked clean by other scavengers, humans included. But if he was slicker than snot, and looked in the right places where others had not, fate might smile on him. It had before.
Entering a larger store, he observed he was in Macy's. Flashbacks of the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, with Santa at the end and Snoopy somewhere in the middle, reminded him of considerably better times. Melted plastic toys were frozen in time, like Salvador Dali's clocks in his famous painting, "Persistence of Memory."
Sven stopped and kneeled to listen. Clutching his Glock 17, just in case, he withdrew it from its leather holster and clicked the safety off. He had previously had to shoot a fellow survivor some 14 months prior when the man struggled with him over a bottle of expired aspirin.
Just as Sven stood up, he heard a distinctive sneeze and went to the floor quietly but quickly. With an ear to the warped tiles, he listened for any vibrations that would signal life.
He craved a cigarette. Badly. Few sinful pleasures were available as they had once been. Oh, he'd made some wine in a five-gallon bucket a few times, and he hand-rolled cigarettes in the summer after a tobacco crop was harvestable, but he would have gladly trade his Glock for a ream of Marlboro red, he believed. And a hot cup of coffee. "Damn," he whispered, turning over on his back to fill his near depleted lungs.
There on a disheveled windowsill it sat, a work of art or horror. Weird, though. Some psycho, or maybe an artist, had placed a skull inside a part of a branch and had adorned it with green leaves. As he neared the opus and fingered a leave, he recognized it had been freshly cut or plucked.
Just then, another sneeze forced him to crouch anew. The echo was confusing. Was it coming from afar, up on another floor perhaps, or was it nearby? He slid the chamber of the Glock back quietly to ensure there was an actual round in the chamber, out of an abundance of caution. She was loaded, ready for death.
A cockroach scurried in front of his now prone face. "Son-of-a-..." but he cut the end of his curse when a third sneeze interrupted his reverie. He inched closer to some protective cover and a better line of sight.
Sven was no Dora the Explorer, but not to investigate the sounds would be anathema to the rule of survival, namely, survive at all costs. And then there was a cough, and following it a plume of smoke which drifted his way and then over his head. Tobacco!
"The hell?" he wondered to himself. Was someone on a break from scavenging?
Sven low-crawled closer to an open door, the Glock's trigger on rock-and-roll.
When he peered around the corner his eyelids surely made the sound of a window shutter slamming shut from his utter amazement. It was a...well, it looked like a man.
He ducked behind the wall and then after a moment peered again. The figure was smoking, it's back to him at about a 45 degree angle, so somewhat safely out of "it's" vision. A bead of sweat trickled down onto his nose and he blinked and shook it away.
The left side of the creature was armless, it's long, crusty sleeve dangling like a demented Christmas ornament in a ghetto home. The hair was long, gray and scraggly - down to the mid-back, but this was certainly no Saint Nick.
And yet Sven felt no urgency of fear; rather he continued to watch in disbelief as the creature alit from a wooden folding chair and ambled out of sight. It walked with a decided limp, as if from a wound, tilting somewhat at a slant, much like the creepy dude from the film "Slender Man".
Sven espied a pack of cigarettes on a small table next to the folding chair. It was like finding gold. He'd be damned if he wasn't going to do some immediate prospecting!
Arising to his feet, he peeked around the door jamb again. Nothing. It was out of sight, whatever it was, but he had to be cautious. Glock in hand, Sven tippy-toed three meters to the table and snatched his treasure, nearly crushing his cardboard boxed prize with his firm grasp.
The urge to immediately spark up a stick and saturate his begging lungs was unfillable since he had no fire. Just then, it appeared and growled, then howled. Chills rippled down Sven's bony spine. He turned to face the creature...but it was no creature at all, it was a half man!
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph! You scared the bejesus out of me, dude!"
A disjointed row of rotted teeth with a capped silver bicuspid stood out from the otherwise near unrecognizable face. "What in God's name...are you?" Sven queried.
It said nary a word in reply, only started through one eye, the other apparently shut forever.
A Mexican standoff ensued for what seemed like hours. Sven sized up the creature. It's left side was all bones, rotting flesh had healed into a cruddy tumor-like mass above the bones and seemed to have sealed the rest of its innards. The creature, a monster really, raised his right arm and brought a tin cup to its thin lips and slurped.
"Whatcha drinking, friend?" Sven asked.
For a moment there was no reply. The standoff continued.
"Coffee. Not that it's any of your freaking business." The voice was deep like a lion's roar, slow like molasses drip, drip dripping from a faithful maple tree in the dead of winter.
"Uh, care to share? Been a month of apocalypses since I had any," Sven bleated.
"Quid pro quo," the man replied, looking at Sven's Glock.
Suddenly the trade he'd thought about earlier didn't seem like much of a bargain. "How about I just up and take it then," Sven challenged.
Freeze dried bones made his move. Swiftly, much to Sven's surprise.
Sven sidestepped the creature and tripped it, sending Slender Man sprawling into the table. The bag of bones spewed a foul yellow and green vomit at Sven which he dodged.
"Time to Boogaloo!" Sven shouted. He yanked the trigger three times and Slender Man fell backwards from his propped up elbows in a heap, gun smoke wafting into Sven's nostrils. The coffee had spilled to the concrete floor and Sven thought better of lapping it up like a dog. Into an adjoining room he trudged carefully, Glock still in hand.
Exiting the room with another purloined treasure in the form of a foil bag of Folgers Instant Coffee, things suddenly went black.